"Reading Terminal Through the Loving Lens of Larry Laszlo," by Carolyn Wyman
Over the past 20 years, Larry Laszlo has traveled the world taking pictures of food markets, assembling what is probably the world’s largest collection of such photos. And Reading Terminal Market is one of his very favorite markets. He has visited Reading Terminal at least a dozen times, or more than any other market in his adult life.
Why does he love us so much? On the phone from his photo studio in Denver, Laszlo, 63, ticks off the reasons:
— “It’s nicely diverse, with a lot of different ethnicities, including the Amish, which is a wonderful feature…
— “It has this great history and is in an interesting old building that was part of a railroad and almost got wiped out by the convention center. So there’s that dramatic story…
— “There’s a lot of competition within the building. a lot of markets only have 12 or 15 merchants, so there is only one poultry guy, one cheesemonger, which isn’t as much fun.
— DiNic’s and Hershel’s sandwiches, both of which he loves.
Although Laszlo has fond childhood memories of visiting Los Angeles’ Grand Central Market with his grandmother (in an era when you would point to the live chicken you wanted to take home for dinner), he says he never set out to become a food market specialist. As a professional commercial photographer, he travels regularly. And as a self-described foodie, he sought out markets wherever he traveled, “originally just to shop and check out local food marketplaces,” wherever possible booking hotel rooms with kitchenettes to prepare fresh foods. “It actually took someone else to point out that I had amassed a significant body of work on them.”
Laszlo’s goal for his market shots are similar to most tourists’: “For the most part I’m using the camera as a record-keeper of where I’ve been. I don’t go in there looking for the great shot.”
Still, a photograph of horse heads passing by the Reading Terminal sign during the Penn Dutch Festival (reproduced above) and of a colorful quilt of tent-tops at the Marche au Fleurs in Nice, France, (viewable at the Special Projects/Food Market link on www.photolaszlo.com) certify a trained eye.
Laszlo is only interested in food markets. While people have suggested he shoot at flea markets, he says, “I don’t find them nearly as interesting. Food people are inheritors of long traditions and knowledge. Even if they’re not preparing food on-site, they usually know something about it. When you buy French bread in a supermarket you know it’s not really French bread. Whereas if you buy it at a market stand, it’s at least an honest effort.”
This pride of product makes it easy to get vendors to pose for shots — like the one Laszlo took of a beaming John Yi employee showing off a whole fish to a customer (also on his website).
Laszlo’s website showcases many international markets. And indeed, Laszlo says markets are much more prevalent outside of the United States. “The rest of the world is older and the traditions have hung on better. America is all about innovation and doing things differently,” which is why, he believes, supermarkets replaced many more markets here.
In fact, he says, “For a while I was shooting with the idea that, ‘I’d better do these quick before these go away.’ But I think that’s changed. A lot of markets here are being revitalized and new ones created,” he says, citing the new market inside the old ferry building in San Francisco as an example.
Laszlo is actually part of a citizens’ group that is trying to create a public market in his hometown of Denver. He can get to Philadelphia only so often, after all.
Larry Laszlo’s photos of a past Market Pennsylvania Dutch Festival can be seen on the wall between A.J. Pickle Patch and Sweet as Fudge. His photos of food markets from around the world, which were taken down during market renovations, are soon to be reinstalled in the new Rick Nichols Room. Laszlo’s website dedicated to market pictures, www.publicmarkets.com, should go live later this summer.Posted on 06.27.12